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Paloma Torres, before the obstructed horizon

Luis Carlos Emerich

Although Paloma Torres’ work can be viewed as a progressive and diversified homage to the basic elements of architecture through a contemporary reassessment of clay as a material for sculpture, today, in this first exhibition presented together with the photographs that set a specific frame of reference, and therefore establish the context of her latest projection, the aesthetic and social reading gains potency and becomes a stimulating paradox.

While Paloma Torres’ columns, walls, frames, spheres, “castles” and reticular reliefs all refer to primary elements or universal archetypes, they make one think of a common humanist ideal which, however eroded and buried by the winds of progress, continues to be yearned for as the lost purity displaced by alienation. Nowadays, taking as reference the construction of the San Antonio overhead speedway in Mexico City (which I have witnessed, and in certain way been seduced by the involuntary plasticity of the forms generated by such a construction), it may be stated that the conceptual basis of her work has gone through a process in which the creative stimulus became reflexive, and whose best conclusion is a proposal, rather than a paradox, of a series of dualities.

For one thing, it is possible to prove that a city that deals with its permanent congestion of traffic and saturation in housing by using desperate invasive measures has been the inspiration for such a beautiful work of sculpture that it limits its critical implications. In addition, one can also claim that the erection of a colossal concrete myriapod that runs over, under and through residential areas, carrying on its tortuous back thousands of automobiles all going at high speed, has been the trigger for this yearning for precisely what it has destroyed: the urban landscape understood as the human need to look t the future. To this duality we must add the artistic value of discovering that beauty can exist in a monster, together with the sensuality of kneading the clay and molding it to create objects that resemble, to a certain degree, our immediate reality but are aesthetically the opposite. Then, this reveals our yearning to recover the lost horizons, against all expectations and against the current of present day trends in art to sacrifice manual skills to impersonal and technological production.

Therefore, these dualities become paradoxical and construe the concepts of something that otherwise would only be seen as imaginative objects of excellent workmanship. The richness of the most humble material, and hence, the recovery of a personal imprint, a craft, contrasts with the excessive intellectualization of today’s art, showing that artistic sensitivity tends to grow in the face of adversity and opens up its own horizons.

Her photographs of the construction process of a work of civil engineering that only makes evident the insolubility of the problem it is attacking, also express duality. The attraction of a physical phenomenon –plastic, in spite of itself– and the rejection of the dehumanizing effect it implies, are linked in the same way as photography as a document and photography as art are. What mighty be considered the testimony of a ‘performance’ propitiates the creation of a parallel work, as much physical –on finding a fascinating model in the invader– as temporal –addressing a contemporary topic as if it were a prehistoric archaeological discovery.

The fact that these sculptures are made of clay draws another parallel, also in the opposite sense. Whilst the clay refers to a mythical origin and to the destiny of human beings, and the massive reinforced concrete structures to an accumulation of imprisoning structures, Paloma Torres confronts human frailty with powerful and virtually indestructible material and materialistic reality. Gigantic columns and enormous reinforced concrete beams will be seen by the archaeologists of the future as the absolute proof of the urban aspirations expressed by new dolmens, possible survivors of a city devastated by them. Similarly, the structures of steel rods, wooden scaffolding and the grids of wooden rollers cast wonderful shadows with the movement of the sun that look like the bones of dinosaurs. They constitute a new type of landscape that comes to prove with these clay figures the theories of decomposition of the object and the simultaneous visualization of its parts on a single plane which, as in Cubism, have proved a to be a paradigm for Paloma Torres.

If one lives and works in a city that, in its effort to resist extinction becomes ever more complex, it is easy to understand that its structures for housing and roads, so uneven and vitiated do not only confine, making it difficult to do anything, but also just to exist. So, Paloma Torres’ subject matter is, in the end, the intimacy of the urban dweller who is forced to replicate internally all these public structures, including the ideologies, and who ends up assimilating this oppression as the true nature of his privacy.

Paloma Torres’ work is contemporary art that responds to urban conflict on its own terms, but by inverting the significance of the conformation of its most characteristic features. If Torres can still find horizons in the city, and she piles them up like stratification of a column that is capable of infinite growth, it is because, at present, it is only possible to express this by the verticality of a menhir, of a totem, an obelisk, of a tower and, even the chimneys of factories and the skyscrapers, in order to eternalize her powers. If nowadays urban skylines are made of concrete and rise to a second or third storey, then an optimistic view of them consists in encircling them –as she does with her clay figures– and to superimpose them until they form sort of stalagmites which, significantly, resemble volumetric concretions like points on a graph of the concentrations of inhabitants in the great cities of the world. So that, what appeared to be the product of subjective sensations, can be read as mimicry of reality making whatever scientific elements statistics may have appear lyrical.

The reference to Mexico City can be extrapolated to any other city that tries to remedy the conflicts of traffic and housing of a constantly increasing population, by invading and disrupting the way of neighborhood life with disproportionate superstructures that only reaffirm the fact that the social unit is the automobile, and not the human being. These dualities of primitivism-modernity, demolition-construction and humanism-mechanization have constituted the basic concept of Paloma Torres’ entire work.

A group of clay sculptures entitled Evocaciones (Evocations), exhibited in the collective exhibition called Terra incognita (Modern Museum of Art, Mexico, 1992) already announced her dominion and resources, both formal and material, in the treatment of the frame and threshold as a fundamental architectural elements, although then they were used as a support for her abstract polychrome compositions reminiscent of cubism. Later, a group of columns, walls and spheres, exhibited in Diferencias Reunidas (Museum of the Fine Arts Palace, Mexico, 1998), addressed more directly her reconsideration of the original and what is inherent in the human being confronted by today’s alienating technology. In the first exhibition, the use of a contemporary revival of clay used for sculpture, and in the second, converted into a sort of incarnation of metallic skeletons, alluding to contemporary systems of construction that in some twist of history had become void of humanity.

In the present group, diversification and multiplication of the concept of the megalithic monument is developed, as well as the reliefs based on compositions of abstract patterns derived from aerial views of the tortured urban mesh, or rather, of scaffolding and plank moldings for cement, seem to show a slow process of reflection that, in a sense, affirms that all efforts to facilitate the flow of urban traffic only generate new forms of congestion. In another sense, it responds to the challenge of idealizing aesthetically the immense energy of the unavoidable, to generate a group of pieces that tends to resemble and installation which, like an abstract sculptured city, allows one not only to see concrete horizons but also its human dimension.

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